“You don’t deserve to live this way!” “That’s just too much for you to have to put up with!” “You should not have to stay!” “YOU ARE JUSTIFIED IN LEAVING!!!” All of those things were said to me when our marriage was in severe crisis. Our marriage was beyond low; our marriage was broken, non-existent. There was nothing left to salvage other than my promise to not use the D word (Divorce). I definitely had one foot out the door and my second foot was one decision away from being out the door as well.
Have you maybe said those same words or phrases to someone you care about? Or maybe your marriage is the one in severe crisis and you are on the receiving end of those words? We say those things to our friends and loved ones because we see them hurting. We see them suffering and we have no idea how to make their pain and suffering go away. How do we tell someone they have to stay in a terrible marriage when we do not know how to help them improve their marriage? It is very common that even well meaning Christians who believe in the “theory” of marriage forever will say these things to those they see hurting. Why is that? If they believe in the indissolubility of marriage, how is it possible they too would say those words? I believe it’s possible because they can only see what human hands and human will can fix; they cannot see what God can fix with his will. When something appears so far gone, and we are helpless to do anything about it, how can we in good conscience say: “You cannot leave, you are married forever, no matter how terrible it is.” Wouldn’t that seem cruel? Believe me, I get where they are coming from and please do not take any of this post as a judgment about someone’s divorce. I have been there; I know how it is to be in a terrible situation and have no apparent way to get out. You just want to stop the pain, the constant disappointment and no one wants to live in horror for their entire life. Sometimes divorce seems the only way. What I am here to do is to give you hope. Hope that no matter what you have thought or believed in the past, that any and every terrible marriage can be turned around. That God can turn your mess into something great. I want to give all married men and women hope that no matter how terrible things are, divorce is not the only choice that can result in happiness. Even though I know it feels that way.
It seems like you have only 2 choices. Choice #1 is stay married and be miserable forever or choice #2 divorce and have a chance at happiness. I know that seems like the only 2 options and when given those options I get why divorce is ultimately the choice. But today I want to tell you about a 3rd option. Option #3 – stay married, focus on growing yourself in virtue and holiness and allow God the time He needs to resurrect your lifeless marriage into unimaginable happiness. I can offer you a third option because that is exactly what God did with our marriage. Most people cannot offer that third option because either they are fortunate enough to have a generally happy marriage or they chose divorce for their terrible marriage, so how can either of those couples really offer you or believe in a 3rd option?
So now that you know there is a 3rd option, either for your crisis marriage or for your friend or loved one in a crisis marriage. Now what? You can’t just tell your neighbor: “You have to stay in your marriage because I read this marriage blog and they say so!” Your right, that will not mean much, and again you will feel helpless.
So lets look at these terrible situations that crisis couples are often in:
- Maybe their spouse has been unfaithful
- Maybe their spouse is on a mission of personal happiness and the marriage just doesn’t interest them any more
- Maybe their spouse is a lazy bum, doesn’t contribute to the household with money, chores, or even a happy attitude (they are crabby or b**chy all the time)
- Maybe it has been months or years since they have been intimate
- Maybe their spouse has moved out and rarely comes to see the kids or choses to interact with the kids
- Maybe their spouse is the closest thing to the devil you could possibly imagine
- Maybe their spouse has destroyed them financially
- Maybe their spouse is abusive emotionally
- Maybe they argue all the time
- Maybe they have grown apart and do not love each other any more
- Maybe they suffer from a mental illness or addiction resulting in unimaginable terrible behavior
- Maybe they are not sure their children are safe with their spouse any more
- The list could go on and on.
Can you believe that my marriage once experienced most of these? And even several others I did not list? The key in choosing option #3 (stay married, focus on growing yourself in virtue and holiness and allow God the time He needs to resurrect your lifeless marriage into unimaginable happiness) despite how terrible the marital situation is, is to:
- believe in the promises that God made on your wedding day
- believe that God has a plan for your future that requires you to successfully navigate these terrible waters
- commit to changing yourself and stop praying for God to change your spouse, and
- know that staying married does not mean we cannot enforce boundaries or protections, while we are patiently growing in virtue and hanging onto the hope that God will resurrect this mess.
#1 believe in the promises that God made on your wedding day
On your wedding day, you and your spouse stood at the alter of your church with God right beside the two of you. On that day, God too promised to sustain your marriage until death do you part, and He promised to be the safety net when the two of you were letting each other down. Believe that He meant every implied word. Believe that your God is a God of honor and integrity! Believe that whatever promise’s He made He will fulfill. Believe that God wants your marriage to succeed even more than you do. Doesn’t He have more at stake?
Several of my blogs talk about God being the 3rd person in your marriage. Check out this one: Marriage Takes Three
*choose to believe that God has your back within your marriage!!
#2 believe that God has a plan for your future that requires you to successfully navigate these terrible waters
When we are in a terrible situation and our marriage is circling the drain or maybe it’s already in the drain, we cannot see anything but the horror, the pain, the disappointment, the betrayal, etc. But try to take a step back. Step out of the mess and try to see things from God’s point of view. If you chose to accept this terrible situation (your current marital mess: whatever it might be), what virtue might God be allowing you to grow in? Is it patience? Is it compassion? Is it humility? Is it courage? That is not the easiest thing to see, but try. Ask yourself, when God eventually changes this situation, what virtue would have been required of me to persevere until the change takes place? Or ask yourself, if God could change my heart from hard and closed off to open, large, and overflowing with unconditional love for my spouse, right now IN THIS MESS, what virtue would I have to be infused with to make that happen? Believe that God’s plan needs you to be infused with new virtue that can only be learned by persevering and conquering this marital situation. Fleeing the situation does not help us grow in virtue; matter of fact it robs us of a virtue God had planned for us as part of his plan/will/design.
#3 commit to changing yourself and stop praying for God to change your spouse
I know this is a VERY hard request. You might be thinking, “ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME!!! I have already done more than my share of the work; my spouse is the one that needs to change!!” And you know, you are probably right. BUT saving your marriage requires you to dig deep and find a love that only God can facilitate. Our human love is limited and is easily angered or pushed to the limit! We find ourselves “justifying” our desire to leave; but in my case the only way I was justified in leaving was in the ways of the world. When I asked myself “Would God say I was justified in leaving?” I realized that in God’s eyes I was not justified in leaving; in God’s eyes I was only justified in staying. I realized that I needed God to change my heart and help me love my spouse like God loved him. Even in the mess, God loves my spouse and learning to love as God loves means learning to love our spouse in the mess of today. If I could grow to love my spouse in the mess of today, imagine how great a love I would have for him when things were actually going well? Ask God to increase the size of your heart so that you can find love for your spouse today.
Resist the temptation to pray for God to change your spouse. Yes, they probably need to change, but let God worry about that. Focusing on measuring the change or lack of change in your spouse will only cause you to grow more and more resentful, toward your spouse and God (for what seems like unanswered prayers). Focusing on yourself, growing in virtue and ultimately in holiness is something you can control, something you can change. Isn’t that a powerful thought? Saving your marriage depends more on you choosing to grow in virtue than on your spouse having to change! That is powerful! That is HOPE!!!
Check out our previous blog Giving 110% to Our Marriage
#4 know that staying married does not mean we cannot enforce boundaries or protections
This is a very important point. We might not be able to change our spouse, but we can find the courage to separate ourselves from bad behaviors or unsafe situations. Your emotional, physical, and spiritual safety is a must (as well as your children’s) and any temporary steps that help achieve that are ok to pursue. Often times we buy into the lie that if boundaries or protections are needed then our marriage is already a lost cause, so what’s the point? This is the lie the devil has weaved into our society, into our families, and even into our churches. If boundaries or protections are needed it is only a representation of how terrible the current situation is, it is not a representation of whether or not a marriage can be saved. So set the boundaries and protections you need to stay married and fasten your seat belt, as I believe that those boundaries and protections are only proof of how important your marriage actually is!!! Think about something for a minute: “The harder the devil works to destroy a marriage, the more important that marriage is to the future of society!” I am not sure why I put that in quotes other than to emphasize its importance. J Look at your mess of a marriage; the more difficult the situation, the more important your marriage is to God’s plan. Don’t give in to the lie of divorce that the devil has disguised as your only path to personal happiness. Choose Faith over Fear; Choose Boundaries & Protections over Divorce.
Without knowing your exact situation, it is hard to list all the possible boundaries or protections you might need at this time in your marriage. What I can do is share with you some of the of boundaries or protections I implemented when our marriage appeared long gone:
- I moved into a separate bedroom upstairs; all of my clothes moved with me and all of my bathroom items were moved into the bathroom upstairs. There was nothing left in the master bedroom or bathroom that I needed. This lasted for about 18 months.
- We scheduled individual time with the kids (similar to what might happen in a legal separation or divorce). During my time with the kids, Jim was off doing something else. During Jim’s time with the kids I was not around. This allowed for each of us to create happy memories with the kids without the stress of our fighting or bad “mojo” between the two of us.
Often times it is our pride that keeps us from pursuing these boundaries or protections for fear that others might notice. But sometimes saving our marriage requires a large dose of humility. When making boundaries and protections make sure they are for your safety (emotional, physical, and spiritual) or the safety of your children, not out of spite, punishment, or keeping score.
Also, keep in mind these boundaries and protections are temporary and give you the needed breathing room so you can focus on growing in virtue. *Unfortunately this post does not include all you will need to do to stay married and ultimately be happy. If the content of my other blogs do not address a specific question, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the contact me tab.
OK, so there is a 3rd option. What do I say to my neighbor or friend to help encourage them in their marriage?
So what do you say to your friends that are contemplating divorce? First resist the temptation to confirm the path of divorce. This is harder than you might think. Our unconscious response is to say comforting things that look like you support a divorce. Examples of things to avoid saying: “You don’t deserve to live this way!” “That’s just too much for you to have to put up with!” “You should not have to stay!” “YOU ARE JUSTIFIED IN LEAVING!!!” What should you say: recognize their pain, offer them hope, and offer them help. For example, you might say: “I am so sorry you are having to endure such terrible pain, this must suck far beyond what I could ever imagine. Hang in there, the devil must be terribly threatened by your future marriage. Check out www.servantspouse.com, they are our friends that were suffering terribly like you are and God saved their marriage. Recently they even launched an online course HOPE in Marriage (Crisis Course) that you might find very helpful too. And lastly, what can we do to help ease the burden so you can choose to stay married?”
If you are the couple in crisis: Choose option #3 and seek assistance from someone that will support your decision to stay married. Look to www.servantspouse.com for encouragement and help; know you are not alone!
Suggested Prayer for a suffering spouse:
All powerful God, the maker of all things, I need you more now than I ever have before. Thank you for reminding me that my marriage is forever and my spouse is my life partner. Help me to avoid the temptation to choose divorce; help me choose the 3rd option. Help me to focus my attention on my relationship with you and growing in virtue and holiness. Help me release my spouse to you and your care. Help increase my faith so that I can believe that you will save my marriage. Remind me of the promises you made on our wedding day and help me hang onto your words that “no man can separate what God has joined.” Help me to be your servant and a servant to my spouse. Save us God from the temptations of the devil. Help me turn over the future happiness of my marriage to you and your care. Only with your grace can I put one foot in front of the other while I am drowning in this mess. In your name, I declare victory over our marriage! Amen.
-by Melissa B
Suggested prayer for a neighbor, friend, or loved one of a suffering couple (insert couples name in blank):
All powerful God, the maker of all things, _____________________ need you more now than they ever have before. Help them choose the 3rd option and stay married instead of choosing the path of divorce. Protect their hearts and minds from the temptations of the devil while they struggle to stay married. Increase their faith so they can believe you will save their marriage. Help me to be your servant and a servant to ______________________ while they choose the difficult road of staying married. Let me be a source of help and a light that shines on the goodness of marriage and help me avoid the unconscious temptation to encourage divorce. When help is needed, let me not grow tired in serving them as I know this is a long road for them and they need my support even when I am tired. I know helping this marriage might make my own marriage a target of the devil; Lord Jesus, tell the devil his evil has no place in my home. Wrap us all in your protection as we fight against the ways of the world! Amen!
-by Melissa B
Ecclesiastes 4:12 – And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.
1 Peter 4:8 – Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins.
Romans 8:28 – We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.
Romans 12:2 – Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Other Suggested Blog posts:
“Marriage Takes Three” – this blog is referenced above in point #1
“Giving 110% to Our Marriage” – this blog is referenced above in point #3
“A Love Letter to my Husband” – this blog will give you hope at how drastically God can change your marriage
The Role of Suffering In Marriage – this blog will give you greater understanding about why we suffer in marriage
Other resources: Catechism of the Catholic Church has extensive content regarding marriage (CCC 1601-1666). I have included a few below that more relevant to today’s post:
CCC 1606 Every man experiences evil around him and within himself. This experience makes itself felt in the relationships between man and woman. Their union has always been threatened by discord, a spirit of domination, infidelity, jealousy, and conflicts that can escalate into hatred and separation. This disorder can manifest itself more or less acutely, and can be more or less overcome according to the circumstances of cultures, eras, and individuals, but it does seem to have a universal character.
CCC 1613 On the threshold of his public life Jesus performs his first sign – at his mother’s request – during a wedding feast.105 The Church attaches great importance to Jesus’ presence at the wedding at Cana. She sees in it the confirmation of the goodness of marriage and the proclamation that thenceforth marriage will be an efficacious sign of Christ’s presence.
CCC 1614 In his preaching Jesus unequivocally taught the original meaning of the union of man and woman as the Creator willed it from the beginning permission given by Moses to divorce one’s wife was a concession to the hardness of hearts.106 The matrimonial union of man and woman is indissoluble: God himself has determined it “what therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”107
CCC 1615 This unequivocal insistence on the indissolubility of the marriage bond may have left some perplexed and could seem to be a demand impossible to realize. However, Jesus has not placed on spouses a burden impossible to bear, or too heavy – heavier than the Law of Moses.108 By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, he himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God. It is by following Christ, renouncing themselves, and taking up their crosses that spouses will be able to “receive” the original meaning of marriage and live it with the help of Christ.109 This grace of Christian marriage is a fruit of Christ’s cross, the source of all Christian life.
CCC 1616 This is what the Apostle Paul makes clear when he says: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her,” adding at once: “‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one. This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church.”110
CCC 1642 Christ is the source of this grace. “Just as of old God encountered his people with a covenant of love and fidelity, so our Savior, the spouse of the Church, now encounters Christian spouses through the sacrament of Matrimony.”149 Christ dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses and so follow him, to rise again after they have fallen, to forgive one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to “be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ,”150 and to love one another with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love. In the joys of their love and family life he gives them here on earth a foretaste of the wedding feast of the Lamb: